Multi-Faith Leaders support right to demonstrate personal faith
Christian electrician wins battle to
display cross in his van
The Daily Mail, 22 April 2011
Christian electrician Colin Atkinson has won his fight to display a cross in his van following a nationwide outcry.
The dramatic climbdown by Wakefield District Housing came after senior church figures were joined by Hindu, Muslim and Sikh leaders in condemning his employers.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey had described the 64-year-old grandfather's plight as ‘scandalous' and Housing and Planning Minister Grant Shapps said WDH's action was ‘wrong'.
Last night Lord Carey said: ‘I'm so glad. All that was needed was a little bit of compassion and understanding. Where there is a bit of common sense we can find a resolution.'
WDH caved in and agreed to let Mr Atkinson display his cross in an effort to end the embarrassing row.
The U-turn came at a ‘confidential and unminuted' meeting between Mr Atkinson, his Unite Union Rep Terry Cuncliffe, WHD Executive Director of People, Gillian Pickersgill and a senior manager at the organisation's headquarters in Castleford, West Yorkshire, on Wednesday.
During the hour-long meeting WDH managers put a series of proposals to Mr Atkinson – all of which would allow him publicly to display the cross.
Mr Atkinson has agreed with managers not to reveal the details of the compromise agreement. But he had maintained all along his right to display the cross publicly was ‘non-negotiable'.
He has been supported throughout his 18-month battle to keep his cross by Mr Cuncliffe.
Yesterday Mr Cuncliffe told the Mail: ‘The issue is about Colin's ability to demonstrate his faith. And any proposals to resolve this issue must allow Colin to display his faith in the way he is comfortable. I believe the situation is up for resolution. It is now time to calm things down and apply some common sense.'
He added: ‘This was a private and confidential meeting. Minutes were not taken so there could be a frank exchange of views between parties. Both parties put forward suggestions to provide solutions and we worked jointly towards reaching a resolution.'
Mr Atkinson was offered a compromise by employers Wakefield District Housing after religious leaders queued up to condemn them
Mr Atkinson is expected formally to agree to WDH's plan that will allow him to display his cross next week.
He told the Mail: "I just want this all over so I can get back to work and provide for my wife and family. This is important. Christians across the country are being persecuted because of their faith. I did not ask for this fight but I have been forced to join it. I have every right to manifest my faith. That is all I have done. I have not bashed anybody with my Bible. I simply want to be able to demonstrate my faith.”
Yesterday WDH declined to comment on the climb-down.
Lord Carey thanked the Mail for championing Christians' right to worship. He said: ‘I am grateful to the Daily Mail for highlighting this case. Christians in this country are under pressure.'
Former Home Office Minister Ann Widdecombe, a devout Christian, added: ‘At last, a victory for common sense and tolerance. It is hugely symbolic that this has come so close to Good Friday.'
Mr Atkinson faced the sack after he refused to take the small palm cross off the dashboard of his company vehicle. WDH told him it was ‘unacceptable' to display the 8in symbol of his Christian faith in the van for fear of upsetting ‘diverse' tenants in the organisation's 31,000 homes.
However, a Muslim worker is allowed to display a Koranic verse in the car she uses for work and staff are allowed to wear specially made company burkas.
The obvious injustice led WDH to be branded ‘anti-Christian' as the dispute sparked anger across the country.
Mr Atkinson has also been supported by Muslim, Hindu and Sikh leaders. The electrician from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, is married to Geraldine, 61. They have five children from previous marriages and three grandchildren.
His ordeal began after bosses received an anonymous letter claiming tenants may be offended by the cross in the van.
He refused to remove it and was accused of rejecting a ‘reasonable' management complaint.
Mr Atkinson and his union rep argued there was nothing in company rules prohibiting the cross.
Hindu and Sikh colleagues appeared as witnesses in his defence. WDH promotes its inclusive policies and allows employees to wear religious symbols – including burkas – at work.
But it changed company policy on Christmas Eve last year to ban all personal effects in its vehicles.
In January Mr Atkinson was reported for continuing to display the cross and last week WDH concluded he had breached company rules.
On Monday he was thrown out of his workplace and told he had violated his contract by revealing his ordeal.
Mr Atkinson, who is currently on ‘gardening leave', expects to return to work on Tuesday – and display his cross in public.